Last weekend, Antonio Banuelos and Rafael de Freitas fought to a split draw at Legacy Fighting Championship 18. If you missed the fight, count yourself lucky. Despite being a largely stand-up affair, this fight was about as entertaining as watching condensation form on a bathroom mirror. Needless to say, fifteen minutes can be a very long time.

It seems like a shame that this televised event, which was otherwise filled with highlight-reel knockouts and submissions, had to have this one glaring blemish stuck right in the middle of it. But what was it that possessed Banuelos and de Freitas to dance and dodge their way to MMA infamy? Quite possibly, they were both playing to the cageside judges, with no intentions of ending the fight early or even keeping it interesting. At least the joke was on them in the resultant decision—a split draw. Small favors.

Point fighting may be the one thing every MMA fan could live without. At its best, it turns fighters into tacticians. At its worst, it makes warriors look like weasels. We might go as far as to question whether the term “out-pointing” one’s opponent should even arise in MMA. After all, is this fighting or fencing? Are these combatants or contestants? However, not only has point fighting shown no signs of diminishing, it’s become arguably more prevalent in recent years. And it’s quite possibly something with which we—as fans—will simply have to learn to live. The question is: are there cases when we can let it slide?

Generally, no more than one fight participant chooses to employ a point-fighting strategy. Rather than a complete disengagement, what we see here is one fighter in constant pursuit of his/her opponent, who spends the entire fight on their back foot, sneaking in a jab here or there and shooting for takedowns during the last thirty seconds of each round. Or even worse, that one fighter shoots for takedowns in the first thirty seconds and then spends the remainder of the round smothering their opponent on the mat with a technique that has been aptly labeled “lay and pray”. This sort of “safe fighting” is no less painful to watch than what took place in the fight between Banuelos and de Freitas. Now, let’s draw on a couple more well-known examples of point fighting, using fights you only thought you’d succeeded in purging from your memory.

In last year’s controversial welterweight interim title bout, Nick Diaz spent the majority of five rounds hunting down a highly elusive Carlos Condit, who utilized a slick counter-striking technique throughout the contest. The fight was later described as “chess vs. checkers,” neither of which is a game that comes to mind when someone yells “MMA.” Diaz’s obvious frustration was capped off with a unanimous decision nod to Condit, prompting Diaz to resign from the sport—temporarily. The fight became something of a prototype for point fighting, and some would say it encouraged other point fighters to emerge from their closets.

At UFC on FX 4, Gray Maynard had no interest in trying to impress the judges with defensive fight-control tactics. Unfortunately, his opponent, Clay Guida, was all too inclined to take the Carlos Condit approach—and take it to a whole new level. Maynard chased Guida around the cage for no less than 25 minutes en route to a narrow decision victory. At one point, Maynard’s frustration reached such a boiling point that he dropped his hands and offered his chin to Guida for target practice in a vain attempt to change the dynamic of the fight. Before it was over, Guida would even be warned by the referee about his incessant evasion.

Most fans had high expectations for both of these fights, only to be disappointed in how they played out. But is there a difference between them? The obvious excuse any point fighter offers is that they were placed in a bad match-up. And, as in the cases of both Condit and Guida, this is usually the truth. However, a bad match-up could simply mean that one fighter’s skills are so lacking, at least in certain areas, that their opponent simply has them outclassed. Point fighting in such a case would surely be an offense to the sport.

For the sake of our examples, we’ll assume that the relevant skill levels were comparable—that both Condit and Guida belonged on the stage with their respective opponents. Even so, the “bad match-up” card can only be used to justify a less-than-enthralling performance, not the outright avoidance of anything that can be considered combat. In Condit’s fight, it seemed that he was willing at least to take an occasional risk, despite a lack of any sustained attack from him. Guida, on the other hand, appeared only interested in wowing the judges with his footwork and conditioning.

Something else to consider is that Condit was angling for a title shot with Georges St-Pierre when his bad match-up occurred. While some might argue this should be added incentive to fight all-out, it can also be viewed from another perspective. Fighters work extremely hard for a chance at a world title shot, and if one needs to bend the spirit of fighting a little to get there, why shouldn’t we be willing to look the other way for a few minutes? (Of course, it would be easier if they warned us ahead of time.)

In hindsight, we can see that Condit’s shift of character was temporary and was essentially a means to an end. An end, most importantly, that justified the means, as the eventual title fight with St-Pierre turned out to be a true classic. But while Condit took home “Fight of the Night” in his follow-up affair, Guida won only “Mustache of the Night” in his subsequent—and highly forgettable—bout with Hatsu Hioki.

So it almost comes down to a matter of redemption. In the end, a fighter should be looking to live down any lackluster performance—if not for the fans, then for their own confidence. Fighting isn’t exactly one of those jobs you can carve out a niche in and then proceed to coast. (I say this despite the fact that I disagree with sweeping cuts based solely on lack of entertainment value.) MMA is a demanding sport both physically and psychologically, and for better or worse, public image counts. As the saying goes, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

One of the best things a fighter who resorts to point fighting can do is admit it. This is precisely what Nick Newell did after his XFC 17 fight with Chris Coggins. Newell spoke out to the crowd and apologized for “making the fight boring” to secure his victory. And speaking of redemption, Newell would bounce back from that fight with two of the most thrilling finishes of 2012, the second of which earned him the XFC lightweight title.

Had it not been privileged to witness Condit versus St-Pierre and Newell versus Eric Reynolds, the MMA world would be a lesser place. This doesn’t make it any more appealing to watch a game of cat and mouse for 25 minutes, but when such a thing takes place in the cage we can at least have hope that it’s serving a greater purpose.

If either Condit or Newell had embraced the success of their point fighting and applied the technique to future fights, it would be a different story, of course. But given the title-picture scenario for each, as well as their follow-up performances, it’s not hard to forgive either fighter for what could just as well have been considered an off night. As for Guida, his charisma and positive attitude keep him in the good graces of his promotion for now. However, he’s far from overcoming the Maynard fight, which continues to baffle fans near and far. Let’s hope he just needs to find his groove in a new weight class.

To be sure, not everyone’s going to fight like Wanderlei Silva and Brian Stann did at UFC on Fuel TV 8. And if they did, then medical suspensions would go through the roof, leading to a host of other problems. A little defense is never a bad thing, and counter striking certainly has its place. And while we’d all like to see a good finish, it’s commonly accepted that some of the most entertaining fights in MMA history have been decided by three individuals taking notes cageside.

So, as we look to boost the entertainment value of MMA, we might also offer a little slack to those who exploit their talents in the cage time and again. After all, there will always be instances where the skill sets of two fighters offset each other so completely that the fight is neutralized, resulting in the appearance of a point fight. (Here we’ll give Banuelos and de Freitas the benefit of the doubt.) Add to this bad weight cuts, fighting injured, adrenaline dumps and other unseen factors. On the other hand, if you’re a fighter and you choose to dance with the devil in the realm of point fighting, don’t be upset if you get burned on the decision.

Photo: Carlos Condit (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Robby Collins

Robby Collins considers himself a johnny-come-lately to the sport of MMA. He was introduced to it less than three years ago but has since delved into the sport at all levels. As an aspiring fiction writer, Robby adapted his skills to promote his latest passion and landed with The MMA Corner by way of personal initiative and auspicious timing. Robby has dabbled in karate and wrestling, and is currently learning to kickbox.